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Walter GOEHR (1903-1960)
Malpopita - radio opera (1931)
Libretto: M Felix Mendelssohn and Robert Seitz
Adam Schikedanz - Thorsten Hennig
Evelyne - Lilia Milek
Piet Hein - Axel Herrig
Steuermann Richard - Klaud Wegener
Kapitän Parker - Tobias Hagge
Jim - Daniel Steiner
Jakob - Markus Kopp
Kammerchor 'Malpopita'/Dennis Hansel
Kammerorchester 'Malpopita'/Jin Wang
live, Komischen Oper Berlin, Berlin, Kopenhagenerstrasse, Bewag-Abspannwerk 'Humboldt', May 2004. DDD
CAPRICCIO 60 124 [76:46]


Walter Goehr, the father of composer Alexander Goehr, was busily engaged in providing music for Berlin Radio in the Weimar Republic. During the 1920s he had studied with Schoenberg and Krenek.
 
Malpopita was the second of Goehr's radio operas - opera for a new medium. Here it is revived from the piano score and given new instrumentation by Andrew Hannan.
 
The premiere of Malpopita took place in Berlin on 29 April 1931 when the  conductor was none other than Erich Kleiber. The next year Goehr, with his wife the pianist Laelia Rivlin, left to take up a position in London with the Columbia Gramophone Company. He was soon to become its musical director. After the second world war he had a similar position with the American Concert Hall label. He toured widely throughout Europe and made many recordings. He was said to be most proud of his world premiere recording of Bizet's symphony in C. Extremely active in broadcasting, during the war he was famed, under the pseudonym George Walter, for his radio series beamed to occupied Europe. After the war his conducting of a wide range of music continued including revivals of Monteverdi's Vespers and Incoronazione di Poppea. He also presided over broadcasts of the Brecht-Weill Berliner Requiem, Britten's Serenade, Tippett's Child of Our Time and Concerto for Double String Orchestra, Messiaen's Turangalila and Seiber's Ulysses. In film music he may be best known for his score for David Lean's Great Expectations (1946). Phenomenally energetic and driven, he died 'in harness' in the cloak-room of Sheffield Town Hall after a performance of Handel's Messiah.
 
Goehr's musical language in Malpopita is at times redolent of Weill as in the accordion contribution to Gestrandet (tr. 11). The factory scenes at the start (tr. 1 and 2) have the stamp, thunder and iterative regularity of great machines. The thunder and ring of metal is the signature and is bound to make us think of Mossolov and of Fritz Lang's humanity-servitude foundry scenes in the film Metropolis. It's a style that returns in tr. 14 (Oil Oil Oil). The sleazy-romantic bier-keller culture can be heard in tr. 4. The opera mixes speech and singing - mostly singing and even the spoken sections have a sung effect.  There is nice use made of spatial effects in tr. 10 for the wreck of the Esperanza. The female chorus in Das Dicke Ende even gives us a Honolulu sway - a sort of Honoluluation - alongside the mechanistic roll-call stuff which finally grinds down even Adam.
 
The plot is as follows: Adam has been in the drudgery of factory work for ten years. He has had enough, picks up his cards and takes to the open road. He fetches up at a port and is signed on for a voyage on a yacht significantly called ‘Esperanza’. He and the other crewmen hymn the paradise of the South Sea island of Malpopita. Adam finds rapturous love with Evelyne. It becomes apparent that the boat is engaged in smuggling and they are pursued by government vessels. The yacht runs aground on the reefs of Malpopita. The island is the paradise ideal of liberation and freedom. The island idyll is short-lived as an exploratory team disappear and as Richard decides he wants Adam got rid of so he can take Evelyne for himself. The crew find oil. Despite Adam's warnings that exploiting oil will bring disaster the rest including Evelyne now move into oil extraction and processing. The great cycle turns again and the music of the opening scenes returns as the simple society fades before the glories of factory servitude and wage packets. All hope is gone. Even Adam returns to the pay packet roll-call and his number 937. Remind you of 1984?
 
Malpopita is a compact work lasting 66 minutes here presented in fifteen separately tracked scenes. The remaining 10 minutes is taken up by the final track comprising a Deutschland Radio Kultur feature on Goehr and the Malpopita-Project. It is in German and there is no translation.
 
The set is well documented although the slender font, small print and design background make legibility difficult.
 
Design issues aside this is a well presented set packaged in a slip case for the standard jewel box and the dumpy booklet.
 
A pleasure to make the acquaintance of Goehr's tangy satirical radio fable. I would like to hear more of Goehr’s music. You will too.
 
Rob Barnett
 

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